Research Topic

The impact of microbe-mineral interactions on geologic systems

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Microbes occupy just about every niche in the natural environment, and their influence on mineral processes is equally as widespread. The transformation of soils and early diagenesis of sediments in terrestrial and aquatic settings, the elemental cycling at the sediment-water interface in aquatic settings, ...

Microbes occupy just about every niche in the natural environment, and their influence on mineral processes is equally as widespread. The transformation of soils and early diagenesis of sediments in terrestrial and aquatic settings, the elemental cycling at the sediment-water interface in aquatic settings, the formation of mineralic crusts in high temperature geothermal milieus and in the low temperature high-pressure surroundings of the deep sea – all are driven in part by biologic processes.

Mineral formation by microbes, biomineralization, can be the direct result of metabolic processes or the indirect effect of mineral cycling. This often takes place within dynamic micro ecosystems like biofilms or microbial mats, established by a wide variety of co-existing microbial groups including bacteria, diatoms, and fungi. Biomineralization occurs both within organisms (intracellular) and outside (extracellular), and is often important for the protection and survival of certain microbial species or communities. While biomineralization is mainly the formation of minerals, bioweathering typically involves the transformation of minerals. Much like chemical or physical weathering, the destructive effects of bioweathering can be seen on stone buildings, rock faces, and monuments. Recently, microbe-mineral interactions have been explored for biotechnological applications as well, especially in areas such as metal extraction, mineral composites for textiles, and bioremediation of waste sites.

Understanding the mechanisms by which microbes affect change in the environment sheds light on the roles of biomineralization and bioweathering in natural geologic processes. Examining modern processes also furthers our knowledge of the role microbe- mineral interactions throughout geologic time, as the microbial influence is also observed in ancient rocks in the form of biomarkers and microfossils. This window into the past, along with the multitude of otherwise uninhabitable niches so easily filled by microbes, especially makes the study of microbe-mineral interactions relevant to the search for life on other planets.

In this Research Topic, we will explore microbe-mineral interactions in modern and ancient systems from the interdisciplinary perspectives of microbiologists and biochemists to geochemists and engineers. Articles will highlight the results of unique collaborations and cutting edge techniques to observe and quantify microbe mineral processes not only at the micro – and macroscale, but also at the nanoscale to capture the mechanisms that drive these processes.


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